Sunday, April 26, 2009

At the United Nations Headquarters in New York

I arrived back in Jakarta yesterday after a 30 hours flght from New York via Frankfurt and Singapore. After spending most of my Red Cross life in the field, it was fascinating to visit the highest level of humanitarian diplomacy and policy, and briefly rub shoulders with the likes of Ban Ki-moon, Bill Clinton and Helen Clark. It was also interesting to meet the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent team in New York and to see first hand the crucial advocacy work they are doing. We were very proud when Bill Clinton acknowledged the work we had done in the Tsunami, and I had the opportunity later to meet him, and shake hands.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, President Bill Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the report launch. Photo: UNDP

Report on tsunami recovery reveals need to involve local communities

New York — To better respond to natural disasters, governments should invest more in risk reduction for vulnerable communities and make sure to reflect gender concerns in the recovery processes, says a report presented today at the United Nations. Involving local communities in the recovery process, according to “The Tsunami Legacy: Innovation, Breakthroughs and Change” report, is as instrumental as installing high-tech early warning systems. The report also highlights the need for governments to incorporate disaster risk reduction measures in national development plans.

Ban Ki-moon, Helen Clark, Dr. R.M Marty M. Natalegawa (Permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia to the UN), Bill Clinton and Kuntoro Mangkusubroto (Chair of the Tsunami Global Lessons Learned Steering Committee) look at copies of the report. Photo: UNDP

Commissioned by The Tsunami Global Lessons Learned Project, an organization that includes representatives from five of the hardest-hit countries – India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand – in addition to the UN and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the report documents lessons learned from the global recovery response to the tsunami and shares best practices to help prevent and prepare for natural disasters.

“Our capacity to cope with natural disasters is much greater than we realize,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in response to the report. “Yes, we cannot prevent the events. But we can diminish the potential for disaster. Doing so requires foresight and advanced planning, not just emergency relief. That is why this report is so important.”

Since the 2004 Indian Tsunami, there has been a flurry of activity by governments, international agencies and civil society organizations in order to create national and regional early warning systems. Twenty-four early detection buoys have been placed in the Indian Ocean, and 168 governments have resolved to reduce multi-hazard risks. In addition, 250,000 new permanent houses and over 100 air and seaports have been built, 3,000 schools constructed and hundreds of hospitals rehabilitated.

"As UN Envoy for the Tsunami Recovery, I was proud to help the nations and communities affected by the tsunami to ‘build back better’,” President Bill Clinton said. “Thanks to continued contributions of time, money, skills, and needed items by UN, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, hundreds of NGOs, donor governments, the private sector, citizens and governments of the affected communities, and citizens around the world, significant progress has been achieved in building and in preventing and mitigating future disasters. But much remains to be done. I’m hopeful we will continue and strengthen our efforts to promote good governance, economic development, and disaster preparation, even in these tough economic times.”

Celebarting after the function, Antti the Finn, Jerry Talbot, Bill Nicol, Maude Froberg and Anne Christensen. Bill Nicol played a crucial role throughout the Tsunami in Indonesia as senior adviser to the Director of BRR. Jerry Talbot spent two years running the IFRC operation in the Maldives and then became special representative to the Seccretary General of IFRC. Jerry, Bill and Satya Tripathi, Head of UNORC, Indonesia, and Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, were my Tsunami heroes

When the 2004 tsunami hit, many people could not access assistance simply because of their gender, ethnicity, age, class, religion or occupation, says the report. Women were particularly hit hard. However, according to the report, the recovery process provided an opportunity to address underlying social disparities in the region, strengthen human rights protection for marginalized groups and creating an environment for social participation. Community capacity to respond to early warning systems was improved and disaster awareness programmes were included in many school curricula. In addition, several countries adopted anti-discrimination measures to help all victims benefit from aid, including victims of conflicts.

“The tsunami recovery effort has showed that by working together —and by collaborating with local communities at every step along the way— we can indeed build back better,” said Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and Chair of the UN Development Group. “One of the principal lessons drawn early on from the tsunami is that all countries need to be better prepared for when natural disaster strikes. What is needed is bold action —from governments, the UN, and other partners — to make sure appropriate disaster risk reduction measures are instituted.”

Jerry Talbot, Eddy Purwanto, Bill Nicol, Dr. Kuntoro Mankusubroto and myself. Eddy, Bill and Dr. Kuntoro are from BRR, the Indonesian Govt. Ministry in charge of Tsunami.

“Through the tsunami, we have also learned that there is a large reservoir of goodwill, which forms the foundation for strengthening the bonds of humanity and solidarity”, said Dr. R.M Marty M. Natalegawa, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia to the UN. “We should build on this reservoir to forge closer ties between nations and inspire a more humane world.”

I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to New York and apart from meeting from meeting the high wattage luminaries, I met many lesser luminaries in the heart of New York. here are a few photos.

Stano, a waiter at Scotty's Diner.

Gurung behind the counter in his convenience store.

Gurung's convenience store

Scotty's diner

A Manhattan street.

Empire States building

Jerry and I enjoyed a long walk in Central Park on Saturday.

Times Square

A view across the river from the UN headqiuarters in Bew York.

My first visit to the UN Security Council Chambers, a place I have dreamed of being a fly on the wall.

Anne Christensen showing me her favourite statue of an African woman in the UN headquarters.

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